2016 General Election Edition
We would really love to provide an entertaining, pithy introductory paragraph for you here, California voters, but we just can’t. We’re spent. Bleary-eyed. Shot-out. We’ve been burning the candle at both ends, you see, researching the 17 propositions on this season’s ballot so you don’t have to. Below you’ll find our recommendations, along with plenty of links to further information, in case you think you smell something fishy in our writeups. We doubt you will, though: Mad Props is proud, every election cycle, to make our biases very clear, and to show our work, just like we had to in math class. Nothing sneaky here. Just independent guidance to California’s propositions, as we’ve been providing since 2008.
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Prop 51 says “Let’s sell nine billion dollars worth of bonds, and use the money to build and rebuild our schools.” What sort of monster could vote against that? You, if you’re informed. And if being informed makes us monsters, then seriously friends, let’s be monsters.
Why is Prop 51 a bad idea? Glad you asked; we’ve got three answers on offer.
#1: More Bond Debt. If Prop 51 passes, it means that every year for the next 35 years, the state must spend $500 million paying off this bond debt. That’s $500 million every year that is already spoken for. A recent study indicates that the next time the economy goes south, we’re gonna lose $55 billion in revenue. Y’all remember how Sacramento has to cut back when the economy crashes, right? How we all moan about highways that don’t get the attention they need, schools that can’t buy paper, all that? If you’ve lived in the Golden State long enough, you’ve seen this scenario play out plenty of times. It’s going to come around again, and when it does, the folks who create the state budget are going to go looking for a whole bunch of $500 million expenditures to cut, and they’ll have to cut one more if we’re stuck making the payments on Prop 51’s bonds.
#2: A Giveaway to Developers. In the halcyon days of the 20th century, big-time developers — the ones who build out entire communities — shouldered the cost of the infrastructure required by those new communities. We’re not just talking about roads and sewers, here: We’re talking about schools, too. But then things changed. The San José Mercury-News tells the story:
[A new round of school construction bonds] started in 1998, when voters approved the first of four statewide bond measures totaling $40 billion for K-12 through community college construction. Those bonds won’t be paid off until 2044. This year, they’ll cost the state $2.7 billion in principal and interest, 2 percent of the general fund.
The rules say that as long as the state has bond money available, local districts can’t require developers to pay more than half the cost of additional classrooms their new homes require. Now that the bond money has all been spent, developers want voters to replenish the kitty with Prop. 51 and keep the old rules in place until 2020. This would save them money but it would add $500 million annually to state debt payments.
So developers basically want an extension of a sweetheart deal. Grrr.
#3: Local Bonds Already Get the Job Done. It turns out school districts know how to get bonds passed when their schools are falling down. And in fact, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, it’s easier than it used to be: “Since 2000, the threshold to approve a local school construction bond measure has dropped from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent. Since then, 80 percent have passed.” Local bonds keep the decisions about spending local, and keep the oversight local. Those are what we call pluses, people.
In sum: If we reject Prop 51, we will not create a scenario in which our schools are left high and dry. If Prop 51 passes, we add substantially to the state’s bond debt in order to subsidize a giveaway to developers. That’s exactly why the construction industry is putting up nearly all the money to get Prop 51 passed. Don’t be fooled, and don’t be bought! Vote no on Prop 51.
Since 2009, private hospitals in California have paid roughly $3 billion a year in fees that go into a pot that is used to pay for Medi-Cal, our state’s implementation of Medicaid (the federal program that provides low-income folks with medical care). That $3 billion then gets matched by the Feds, doubling the size of the pot, enabling more people to get the care they need.
The program works so well, it’s been extended three times by the state legislature (with bipartisan support). One hitch, though: that same lege has lately taken to diverting some of the fees that hospitals pay straight into the general fund. No fair, the hospitals say, and they’ve got a point. Prop 52 would extend this program permanently, and make it difficult for the lege to divert funds from it.
The opposition to Prop 52 speaks thusly in your Voter Information Guide: “Prop 52 is great for hospital CEOs and their lobbyists, but bad for patients, low‐income women and children, seniors, and veterans.” This is an offensively disingenuous statement. There is no doubt whatsoever that the arrangement Prop 52 would extend helps Medi-Cal patients. We’re talking about a lot of people, here: There are more than 12 million Californians on Medi-Cal. That’s a third of the state’s population, folks. The opposition provides no evidence to support their contention that the money we’re talking about is going to end up in the pockets of hospital CEOs. Quite honestly, we cannot decide if that argument is shameless or shameful. (After consulting a dictionary, we find that it’s both.)
Prop 52’s fiscal impact is unknown, because we don’t know if the lege would have renewed the fees in question in the absence of this proposition. But there are two possible scenarios: one in which the fiscal impact is negligible, and one in which the state saves $1 billion a year, and hundreds of millions of extra dollars are available for providing health care for the poor. Mad Props is happy to take that bet. This is sound public policy, and it deserves your support. Vote yes on Prop 52.
We’re going to lift some explanatory text from Ballotpedia here:
California sells two types of bonds. The first are general obligation bonds, which are repaid for using revenue in the General Fund… The California Constitution requires voter approval before the state can issue general obligation bonds.
The second type of bonds are revenue bonds, which are repaid using revenue from fees or other charges paid by the users of the project. For example, a revenue bond issued to build a highway could be repaid by mandating a toll for users of the highway. Under existing state law, revenue bonds do not require voter approval.
Proposition 53 would require voter approval for infrastructure-related revenue bonds totaling $2 billion, adjusted for inflation, or more.
This is a terrible idea. There are several reasons. First, California’s initiative system is already out of control. (That’s why Mad Props exists!) We hardly need to mandate more situations where the people get to decide. Second, Prop 53 would require certain local projects to get a statewide YES vote. Sez Gary Toebben, President of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce: “[Under Prop 53], if residents in Los Angeles decide they want to make bridge safety repairs, then voters from Redding to Bakersfield would have the right to veto that decision. Crazy? You bet.” Third, Prop 53 contains no exception for emergency situations. It’s not hard to envision a disaster scenario in which a locality (or the state itself) needs to quickly raise a ton of money (my fellow Bay Areans: think about what’s gonna happen when the Hayward Fault finally slips); we shouldn’t have to wait for the electorate to approve such a move.
The opposition to Prop 53 has been outspent by four million dollars; the proponents have been funded entirely by one gazillionaire malcontent from Stockton. His pet proposition is unneeded, unnecessary, unwise, and unworthy of your vote. Vote no on Prop 53.
All of the money — all of the money — behind Prop 54 comes from a guy named Charles Munger, Jr. Over the last decade or so, Munger has spent more than $78 million to support conservative causes and candidates, leading one Republican strategist to claim, “If it weren’t for Charles Munger, the California Republican Party would have been driven into the sea at this point.”
This makes us approach Prop 54 with a skeptical eye. But it turns out that Munger’s latest pet project is a so-called “sunshine law” — one that requires government proceedings to be open or available to the public. Mad Props likes sunshine laws. Prop 54’s most important reforms are:
- require bills to be published online for 72 hours before lawmakers in Sacramento can vote on them
- require all public legislative meetings to be recorded, with videos posting online within 24 hours
Mad Props has scoured the land in search of a strong argument against these reforms. We have come up short. What we have found is that wherever you might read an op-ed against Prop 54 — this one or this one or this one or this one — it is inevitably written by Steven Maviglio, whom the Sacramento Bee describes as a “Sacramento-based Democratic political strategist who has worked for three Assembly speakers and former Gov. Gray Davis.” Maviglio is also the director of Californians for an Effective Legislature, a campaign committee whose web presence is NoOnProposition54.com, truly one of the worst political websites we have seen in a very long time. Maviglio’s op-eds and website all share the same unsupported, bald-faced assertion that appears in your Voter Information Guide: If we remove the legislature’s ability to seal certain kinds of deals behind closed doors, we are told, those deals simply won’t be made. Mad Props is doubtful of this, and finds it far more likely that the Democrats who oppose this measure are simply against any changes to the status quo — that status quo being “Democrats in Sacramento get to do whatever they want, however they want” due to the fact that Republicans have basically shrivelled up and died there.
Like we said, Mad Props likes sunshine laws. And we like this one, even though it’s been placed on the ballot by a gazillionaire who’s made a hobby of playing around with the initiative process. Vote yes on Prop 54.
In 2012, Californians followed our advice and passed Prop 30, a boost in the sales tax and income taxes for high-earners. That income tax boost was scheduled to end in 2018; Prop 55 would extend it until 2030. The money raised would go overwhelmingly toward education (K–12 and community colleges), with smaller set-asides for health care programs like Medi-Cal.
This is a “soak the rich” proposal, pure and simple. It would affect single Californians who make at least $263,000, and couples making $526,000. Those folks account for the top 1.5 percent of earners in the state. And you know what? They can fucking afford it.
Mad Props has never tried to hide its biases. In an age where income inequality is so incredibly stark, it is impossible to argue that Prop 55 is somehow unfair to folks who are doing so well. There is an argument to be made that this is a Band-Aid, a stopgap measure that covers for the lack of comprehensive tax reform at the state level — reform that is needed so that the state budget won’t be so badly hit the next time the economy goes south. That argument ignores the fact that (as Democratic and Republican candidates alike have been saying all year) for too long now, our economy has only been working for people at the very top; the rest of us have been losing real income year after year since sometime in the 1980s. You can’t draw blood from a stone, you know? So, yes, Mad Props says you should vote to soak the rich here and not lose a moment’s sleep over it. Vote yes on Prop 55.
First, a few facts to frame the argument. The price of a pack of cigarettes in California currently includes $1.01 in federal tax, and $.87 in state tax. If Prop 56 passes, that second number will go up to $2.87 (with a similar tax on those newfangled e-cigarettes, which provide the same amount of addiction and death without all the attendant coughing and stinking). In comparison, New York currently taxes each pack $4.35, Hawaii tacks on $3.20, and Missouri demands a paltry 17 cents. (Take a moment to insert your own Missouri joke here.)
The current cigarette tax was set by the voters in 2012, with Prop 29; our advice was to vote yes, although we admitted at the time that we were “thoroughly and completely torn.”
We feel similarly this time around. Look, Prop 29 is a sin tax, right? Sin taxes always feel a little gross to us. They smack of the nanny state (we are not a fan), and they impact low-income people disproportionately. So, like, yuck.
But you know what? Big Tobacco: Much. Bigger. Yuck. Kids getting addicted to poison, dying gasping for breath decades later, all to line the pockets of the humanoid reptiles who lead sociopathic corporations like Altria (formerly Philip Morris). Serious levels of disgusting. So, yes, we hate sin taxes, but fucking cigarettes, man, we hate everything about those, and of one thing there is no doubt: If Prop 56 passes, some folks will quit smoking, and others will never start. So all the arguments against this measure that complain about how the money will be spent are (aside from being paid for by Big Tobacco) beside the point. Prop 56 means fewer people addicted to cigarettes. That’s good enough for us. Vote yes on Prop 56.
This is a continuation of 2014’s Prop 47, which reclassified most nonserious and nonviolent drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Mad Props urged a yes vote, and the voters obliged. Thousands of people were let out of our state’s inhumanely overcrowded prisons. Our use of private prisons has been cut in half. It was a good first step in undoing California’s policies of mass incarceration.
Now it’s time to do more. Prop 57 will grant early parole to additional nonviolent offenders who complete rehabilitation programs. Just as with Prop 47 only two years ago, California’s cops are trying scare tactics to get you to vote no. Just look at this first sentence from their “Argument Against” in your Voter Information Guide: “Proposition 57 will allow criminals convicted of RAPE, LEWD ACTS AGAINST A CHILD, GANG GUN CRIMES and HUMAN TRAFFICKING to be released early from prison.” [emphasis theirs!] They made similar arguments last time. The apocalypse never came. Yet still they insist that Prop 57 will lead to unforeseen heights of raping and pillaging.
You know better than that. California is already ahead of a lot of the country when it comes to criminal justice reform; with Prop 57 we can maintain our pace. We can continue to dismantle the machinery of mass incarceration, with positive benefits for our state budget, our state’s families, and our communities. Consider it another step in righting decades of bad social policy. Vote yes on Prop 57.
There is a little bit of a religious war in primary education circles. On one side, you have educators who believe that students who don’t speak English will learn it faster if you dump them into classes where non-English language use is kept to an absolute minimum. This is the so-called “immersion” technique. On the other side are educators who believe that these students will learn English better if their native language is part of the learning process. This is what we refer to as “bilingual education.”
Bilingual education was outlawed by Prop 227 in 1998. The passage of that measure was driven in part by racial animus which had been stirred up and put to use passing the infamous Prop 187 only four years earlier. Prop 227 mandated English immersion for most English as a Second Language students in the Golden State.
If you survey a hundred educators across the state, you’ll find roughly half of them believe that immersion is the superior technique — that it brings young people’s English skills up to snuff faster and more effectively. They will be happy to provide you with some research that backs their claims. The other half will tell you that bilingual education is superior, and they also will be happy to provide a substantial amount of research that supports their viewpoint.
The point is, the waters here are muddy, and, as we said, this is a bit of a religious war. There aren’t just strong opinions on both sides: Emotions run high as well, as issues of language are inextricably bound to issues of culture and identity.
Since the jury is still out on whether immersive or bilingual education is better for kids, Mad Props believes that communities should be free to adopt the methodology they believe makes the most sense in their classrooms. Prop 58 would provide that freedom. The opposition makes some truly outlandish and disingenuous claims in your Voter Information Guide, including this whopper: “Prop 58 … [is] about eliminating parental rights to an English–language education for their children.” This is patently false, as the folks who crafted the measure included a requirement that schools maintain immersion programs for parents who want their kids taught that way.
Schools in Los Angeles were ground zero for the fight over Prop 227 in 1998; as such, the Los Angeles Times has an excellent perspective on this issue. We agree with that paper, and with the teachers across the state who want the freedom to educate their ESL students in the manner they think is best. Vote yes on Prop 58.
What will happen if Prop 59 passes? Absolutely nothing. Same if it fails. This is an advisory measure only, meant to sort of take the temperature of the California electorate.
So, do you have an opinion on the 2012 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United? You do? Good! If you hate the decision, vote yes on Prop 59. If you support it, vote no. And if you have no idea what Citizens United is, then (1) maybe read the news every now and again; this is a big story you’ve missed, and you’ve living in a god damned society, okay? and (2) please do not cast a vote either way because you have no opinion, and this measure is for people who do. It’s all about opinion. There’s no meat here, and no real consequences for California.
If you are foaming at the mouth and calling us idiots for that last sentence — if you are one of those people who go totally apeshit about Citizens United every chance you get — we direct your attention to a recent “Annals of Law” piece in The New Yorker. Quoting:
“People use ‘Citizens United’ as shorthand for all the problems of money in politics, but in fact the decision itself had little to do with money in politics, and reversing it would do little or nothing to remove money in politics,” Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School who also worked in the Obama Justice Department, told me… “Citizens United has nothing to do with the huge amount of money, the dark money, that is being spent by rich individuals to influence campaigns and public opinion. In our system, there’s basically nothing you can do to stop the Koch brothers from independent spending in elections. That’s their right under the First Amendment.” … “You can erase Citizens United, and nothing will change until Congress decides to regulate the super PACs and political nonprofits,” Heather Gerken, a professor at Yale Law School, said.
Mad Props thus takes no position on Prop 59.
Advice columnist and national treasure Dan Savage, whom Mad Props trusts almost implicitly, has a few fascinating things to say about Prop 60; his column on the matter is worth a read. Savage points out that this measure is an attempt to move the porn industry out of California. Numerous porn producers have stated publicly that if Prop 60 passes, they will move their operations. So if you wanna see the epicenter of America’s porn industry move from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, this proposition is for you.
Proponents of Prop 60 say their aim is to protect the health of porn performers. Those performers are calling bullshit; their trade group, the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, is against the measure, as are the following organizations: the Democratic party, the Republican party, the Libertarian party, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Equality California, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation — those are the Quakers, people! Even the Quakers agree: We don’t need condoms in our porn. Vote no on Prop 60.
Prop 61 is an attempt to control the state’s spending on prescription drugs. It stipulates that any state agency buying a prescription drug cannot pay more for that drug than the federal Department of Veterans Affairs does. The hope is that the drug companies will react to this move by saying, “Oh, I see, California. You’ll only pay this lower price. Okay, we give up. Here, have the drug at that lower price.”
How likely does that sound to you? If you’re skeptical, you’re in very good company. The smart folks who’ve taken a look at this (including the state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst) warn that there are all kinds of nasty, unintended consequences that could arise from this proposition’s passage. For instance, since Prop 61 would tie California’s spending to the VA’s, the drug companies could very well respond by abandoning discounts they currently offer the VA — meaning higher drug prices for veterans, an outcome nobody wants.
You are going to see a ton of advertising against Prop 61 between now and Election Day. It’s being paid for by — you guessed it — the evil drug companies, who are spending close to $100 million to defeat this measure. Usually that would get us thinking: Anything that’s bad for those companies has got to be good for average Joes, right? Sadly, not in this case. Prop 61 would be bad for drug companies, yes, but it could also very well be a disaster for veterans, senior citizens, and anyone else who is struggling to keep up with the extraordinary costs of a prescription drug regimen. There is absolutely no doubt that there’s a reckoning in the offing for the drug companies, but it’s probably going to have to come from the feds. Prop 61 is not the way to do it; instead, it’s a very risky gamble that a half-baked solution will provide some temporary relief. Join Mad Props and every editorial board in the state that has taken a position (as of this writing): Vote no on Prop 61.
We have been here before. Four years ago, Mad Props implored Californians to abolish capital punishment. They did not. The issue is now before us again. Our position remains the same. We refer you to our argument against 2012’s Prop 34. Capital punishment is no less immoral than it was four years ago. What has changed in those years is that we now have a much bigger spotlight on the inequities and injustices of our so-called criminal “justice” system. Mad Props assumes that is why opposition to the death penalty is on the rise nationwide. The United States is the only western country that still has the death penalty. California should join the 20 states that have judged this a terrible error and ended the practice. Vote yes on Prop 62.
Before we begin, here’s what Mad Props holds to be true with respect to the matter of what we Americans call “gun control” (a phrase that is not necessary in most civilized countries):
- The Second Amendment is as American as apple pie and needs no tinkering with.
- Justice Scalia’s Heller decision of 2008, which affirmed the right of individuals to own and keep assembled, loaded, ready-to-fire guns, is not as problematic as many progressives believe, and in fact can provide cover for reasonable, common-sense gun regulations.
- We mostly don’t have those reasonable, common-sense gun regulations because politicians cower before the powerful National Rifle Association, whose deep pockets can conjure up all manner of hell for any politician who takes a stab at this issue.
It’s that third bullet point that is most relevant here. Our pols don’t have the guts to enact sensible gun laws, so in this case, it’s the initiative process to the rescue. Prop 63 provides several regulations, the most important of which is a new process for getting firearms out of the hands of convicted criminals who are already prohibited from possessing them. Additional new regulations would include background checks for ammunition purchases, and a total ban on large-capacity magazines.
Look, if you’re with the NRA, we already know you’re not voting for this. That’s okay, the rest of us are going to. Prop 63 stands a very good chance of passing. At which point, the NRA (which has spent very little on opposing the measure) will send a legion of expensive lawyers into court in an attempt to dismantle every last bit of it (that’s probably what they’re saving their money for). They are very afraid of this sort of reform, because if it is shown to be effective, it will become a model for other states who have had it with gun violence.
Prop 63 may not be perfect, but it is definitely a step in the right direction that does not look anything like the sort of unreasonable, draconian regulations struck down by Heller. If the country’s epidemic of gun violence disturbs you and you’d like to see something done about it here in California, this is (ahem) your best shot. Vote yes on Prop 63.
We have been here before, too, dear readers! Six years ago, Mad Props beseeched you to follow Peter Tosh’s immortal advice with respect to marijuana and just Legalize It already. Alas, it didn’t happen.
So here we are again. But Prop 64 is not simply a rerun of 2010’s failed Prop 19. Whereas the measure that failed would have made for sort of a Wild West for weed here in the Golden State, Prop 64 will create a heavily regulated, heavily taxed marijuana industry. The regulations and taxes are so heavy, in fact, that the deputy directory of California NORML calls Prop 64 “60 percent legalization.”
Hey, we’ll take it! Why? Here’s what we wrote in 2010:
[This] is the first step in undoing decades of needless prohibition that has torn families apart and ruined lives by criminalizing addiction, all while misspending untold gazillions of taxpayer dollars. It’s the first move in a chess game that will, slowly but surely, end the War On Some Drugs. [Benefits will include] increased [tax] revenue at state and local levels, fewer overcrowded jails, police focusing on real crimes (you know, the kind with victims), and the end of the Big Lie that the demon weed is somehow more dangerous than the liquor in your cabinet. All of this is worth voting for.
It was true in 2010; it remains true now. Mr. Tosh’s moment has arrived in California. Legalize it, yeah, yeah. Vote yes on Prop 64.
Props 65 and 67 have to do with disposable plastic bags — the kind that many California cities and counties now prohibit grocery stores and other businesses from offering. In 2014, California Senate Bill 270 banned these bags statewide. But before that law could go into effect, bag manufacturers got Prop 67 placed on the ballot, taking the issue out of the legislature’s hands and giving it to the people. This was basically an attempt to stall for time, so they could cook up another way to defeat the ban.
The result is Prop 65, designed to entice you by mandating that fees charged for bags go into a fund dedicated to protecting wildlife and the environment. But hidden in plain sight in the measure is text designed to give the plastics industry’s lawyers a way to march into court and have Prop 67’s bag ban invalidated. In other words, Prop 65 is a Trojan horse measure, filled not with soldiers, but lawyers.
Disposable plastic bags are an enormous environmental problem. The state lege was right to ban them. Vote against the plastics industry’s efforts to overturn the ban. Vote no on Prop 65, and vote yes on Prop 67.
This is Prop 62’s evil twin. Prop 66 is financed by cops, and if it passes, California’s use of the death penalty will be ramped up: Appeals in capital cases will be sped way up, there will be fewer of those appeals, and San Quentin will cease to be the only place where Death Row prisoners are housed.
You already know how we feel about this. The death penalty is immoral, ineffective, and applied unequally across racial lines. The gross inequities in our criminal “justice” system make the possibility of executing an innocent person very real. Prop 66 will change none of this.
Since Props 62 and 66 are in conflict, if they both pass, the measure with the most votes will supersede the other. This means that if you are against the death penalty, it’s not enough to vote yes on 62; you’ve also got to vote no on 66. And that is exactly what Mad Props urges. We need an end to capital punishment in California, not an expansion of it. Vote no on Prop 66.
As we said in our commentary on Prop 65, the only reason Prop 67 exists is that it served as a stalling measure for the plastics industry. California should ban disposable plastic bags because they are an environmental menace. If you agree, vote no on Prop 65 and vote yes on Prop 67.